California fights fires with funding; homeowners to get money to protect their property

California homeowners will soon be eligible for state grants to harden their properties against wildfire.

It's one feature of a half-billion-dollar funding package signed by Governor Newsom on Tuesday.

With fires wracking the state each year amid deepening drought, legislators agreed with Newsom's plan to fight fire with money.

"It's comprehensive, it's balanced, it's thoughtful," said State Sen. Bob Wieckowski of Fremont, alongside Newsom at the Butte County announcement. "Loads of this money is going to local businesses and local fire councils so they can do the work immediately that needs to get done." 

The huge lightning-caused fires of 2020 made it California's worst fire season for acreage lost.

SEE ALSO: Criminal charges filed against PG&E for Kincade Fire in Sonoma County

And so far the number of wildfires in 2021 is running double that of last year.

"This is just a down payment, this gets the ball rolling, this is early action," said Newsom, flanked by Cal Fire Director Thom Porter.

The wildfire bill allocates $536 million to an array of programs and initiatives aimed at mitigating wildfires.

It spends more than half on suppression and prevention.

That includes more firefighting personnel, equipment and technology.

It also commits resources to thin forests and create fuel breaks in critical areas at an accelerated pace.

"What would have taken decades instead will take a few years," said Newsom.

SEE ALSO: Thousands of weather radios handed out to North Bay residents ahead of wildfire season

The governor noted there are about 500 vegetation projects, across 20 million acres, that need work.

"The fires, from what we're seeing, they're going to continue and probably get a lot worse," said Santa Rosa Asst. Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal, reacting to the funding.

Fire agencies and the communities they serve are hungry for any additional support as fire season approaches.

Santa Rosa has already applied for FEMA grants to help harden homes, create defensible space, and develop evacuation routes. 

"As we compete for these grants so are other communities across the state so any additional money that's put in these pots is going to be beneficial for all of us and the more we can do the better off we are," said Lowenthal.  

SEE ALSO: Sonoma County adding artificial intelligence to wildfire detection camera network

Homeowners in fire-prone areas are especially interested in retrofit assistance to make their properties more resistant.

"There's no more wood basically in our new homes," said Carolyn Williams, a survivor of Santa Rosa's Tubbs Fire in 2017.

He has been in her rebuilt Fountain Grove home for about a year, after her original home burned to the ground, along with much of her neighborhood.

"My neighbor told me, 'there's fire, there's fire out here, we got to go,'" recalled Williams.

She feels confident about the safety of her new house, constructed with non-flammable materials.

The construction standards were required by permit, and paid for by insurance.  

"These homes, they claim, will not burn," said Williams. "And I'm not going to stick around to watch but when you look at them, they're all stucco and steel on the walls and roof, and it looks great." 

Newsom has said he wants to spend $1 billion to reverse the ravages of fire in California.

"When we sign a bill it doesn't solve a problem, it's the work that comes after," he said, sitting on the step of an engine to put pen to paper.

As a survivor, Williams expressed approval.

"I think he's doing the right thing because we absolutely need all the help we can get."